At first glance, the neon and vibrant colored international flags displayed in Helen Keller Middle School cafeteria could be mistaken for a geography lesson.
The 41 flags do serve an educational purpose, but they have a deeper meaning. They represent and celebrate the wide array of homelands, ancestors and heritages of students and staff at the school.
Principal Steven Clapp and the Parent-Teacher Organization of the school purchased 30 flags from different nations to represent the diversity of the student body. Clapp and the staff bought an additional 11 flags.
“Easton can look very, very Caucasian, but as you get to know the students you can see the diversity,” said Clapp, explaining what inspired the flag display idea. “This can be represented by the 41 different flags representing just over the 300 students in the middle school.”
Clapp, a former social studies teacher, wanted to use the flags as an inquiry lesson for students throughout the semester. The flags are a permanent addition to the middle school’s cafeteria, but he is also open to parents sending in additional ideas for future lessons.
Parents of students at Helen Keller Middle School have been overwhelmingly supportive of the school’s efforts to promote diversity initiatives, Clapp said.
Christine Beuno jumped at the opportunity to purchase a Brazilian flag because she appreciates the cultural diversity inside the school. She and her husband are from Brazil. They teach their children about Brazilian culture and language, and she wants her children to learn from their friends from other countries as well.
“There are so many children at Helen Keller with different backgrounds that speak other languages besides English, that have different cultures from us,” said Bueno. “This diversity needs to be celebrated and the flags from different countries are a great idea to do that.”
“Diversity is a beautiful thing,” said Moria Finney, another parent. She purchased an Austrian flag. Her background is Irish but her husband is from Vienna, and they have many friends and a strong connection to Austria.
“I thought it was a wonderful idea – one that will hopefully give students the opportunity to share their customs and traditions with others, as well as spark great conversations,” Finney said. “In addition, not only is the display visually beautiful but also a nice reminder that even though we live in a small town, we are part of a much larger global community.“
Kristen Gemski purchased a flag of the Netherlands. She is Irish, Scottish, German, Dutch and Austrian. Her husband Justin is German and Polish.
“Our girls Kayla, a seventh grader at HKMS, and Anna, a third-grader at Samuel Staples Elementary School, have quite a few components to their heritage,” Gemski said. “I feel so fortunate that the girls are in a school district that focuses on supporting the whole child, and agree with the theory that students need to feel accepted and supported in order to really thrive.”
Photographs by Rick Falco